Q. What didn’t work out as planned?
Everything else! Seriously though, we tend to be our own harshest critics, so it’s actually easy for us to point out things that didn’t work out as expected.
While zones like Uldum and Deepholm look fantastic, they didn’t fit together as well as we’d have liked. In the planning phases, we didn’t think that having scattered end game zones would be a big deal. It turned out to feel a lot weirder than expected. Players ended up teleporting to nearly every destination, and it gave Cataclysm a disjointed feeling, detracting from that feeling of exploration and discovery. We learned that giving players a land to explore, a sense of place, is valuable. Ultimately, the scattered zones and the portals both served to kind of shrink the world, when we want to make the world a place you want to go out and be in. We’re definitely looking forward to getting back to a continent in Mists. We underestimated how important that was.
In addition, while we liked that each zone has a story, questing ended up being too linear. It didn’t feel like you could fly into a zone, find some quest givers, and explore. Instead, you kind of had to start at the beginning and follow all the quests to the end, and if you didn’t like a quest, well, you had to stick with it to get to the next one. We want zones to have an identity, flavor and a story, but we don’t want to railroad players through a zone either.
The difficulty at which we pegged our heroic dungeons and raids was controversial. They were designed to be about as tough as the dungeons were back in Burning Crusade, but the game has changed since then. Coming out of Lich King, we’d gotten the message loud and clear from players that they wanted tougher challenges. They liked the convenience of Dungeon Finder, but they missed using their crowd control and survival abilities and having to strategize about how to beat a given encounter. We designed the Cataclysm heroics with that in mind, and the players who wanted challenging content were thrilled.
The problem was that we had this whole group of players who felt like they couldn’t make any progress on their characters. Even if they wanted to end up raiding with their friends, they couldn’t earn the gear they needed to get into those raids (especially in the absence of Raid Finder). I don’t believe that the instances were too hard; it’s obvious there are players who enjoy that content. I believe the problem was that there were no alternatives. With such a diverse community, the goal is to have experiences that players from all over the spectrum can enjoy. We don’t want to shut anyone out. So, we’re addressing that with Challenge Modes in Mists. You’ll have normal and heroic mode dungeons, and then Challenge Modes, for players who are looking to prove their mettle. Likewise, you’ll have normal and heroic raids, and Raid Finder for players who don’t enjoy wiping on a boss week after week until they can master it.
While choosing a spec at level 10 felt great, we weren’t very happy with the rest of the talent tree overhaul. We definitely pruned some dead wood from the trees and got rid of some talents that weren’t a lot of fun, but players felt like they weren’t getting anything out of the bargain. Having simpler trees is a good goal, but it would have felt better if players felt like they got something cool in return for losing some boring fluff. Unfortunately, as is the case with many compromises, this one didn’t fully solve the original problems it was intended to solve, while it created new ones.
Fundamentally, taking into account what we’ve learned about talent trees over the years, we’ve come to the conclusion that the talent tree model where you pick up tiny performance increases here and there (and where there’s, mathematically, nearly always a ‘right’ answer and a ‘wrong’ answer) is not a great model. The Mists talent design is a major revamp that should fix this problem once and for all. Talents should be meaningful game-changers. At absolute worst a given talent may be the right one only situationally, and at best, players will have a lot more customization to make their play-style stand out. Furthermore, the fact that you’ll have more flexibility to change your talents should help keep gameplay fresh, even with that character that you play most often.
I feel like I should mention Abyssal Maw again. As with many cancelled features, it somehow took on a life of its own in the minds of players. Believe me, though -- you just don’t cancel things that you think are going to be awesome. It was three bosses inside Nespirah, with no unique art. The reason it was originally appealing to us was because we had so many Vashj’ir assets that we could use. But by the time it was time to do the work, we felt like we (and many players) had Vashj’ir fatigue. Now don’t get me wrong -- I loved Vashj’ir. I was an oceanographer, remember? Vashj’ir delivered on the promise of an underwater zone, but we feel like most players were ready to be done with it by the time they had quested through that. (Individuals will feel differently -- it’s that diverse player base thing again.) Firelands received a lot of new art, from bosses to environments, and we just didn’t feel like Abyssal Maw was going to compete. Who knows, though! We haven’t totally given up on the idea of cool underwater experiences, so maybe there’s potential we’d visit it again someday. (For my money, the zone I am personally saddest about cancelling is not Abyssal Maw; it was the Azjol-Nerub quest zone in Wrath of the Lich King.)
Speaking of raids, we also weren’t particularly happy with how accessible legendary items became in Cataclysm. Multiple characters in a single raiding guild were getting, and worse, expecting a legendary weapon. Legendaries are supposed to be rare and exciting, not a bar you fill up like some reputation grind, and certainly not something you feel entitled to get because it’s “your turn.” Dragonwrath in particular was usable by a large variety of class specs, which coupled with the guarantee to completion, just made them too ubiquitous. In the future, legendaries will be more legendary, perhaps so much so that not every raiding guild will have one. In that model, there might be those who almost, but not quite, complete one, but there will also be those who finish one and feel truly honored.
I have mixed feelings about Archaeology. I feel like it’s a good addition to professions and offers more, and more varied, gameplay than our existing professions. Still, it’s clear that some players wanted more. We wanted Archaeology to be hard to complete. We didn’t want it to be one of those professions you can max out by buying up mats at the Auction House. But random reward systems whose long-term goals are more interesting than the short term ones can feel grindy. Archaeology had too much travel time. It could be punishingly random, especially for players who imagined that it would be a guaranteed delivery mechanism for Zin’rokh (which was never the intention). Players missed a lot of the lore, which was delivered in the Archaeology journal and not as part of the survey or digging experience. We think the Mists of Pandaria expansion will be really good for Archaeology. Players will be focused on a couple of new races on a single continent, so travel and randomness will be reduced automatically, and leveling Archaeology should be a bit more convenient since there will be more opportunities to dig at a single site. We have other tricks up our sleeve too.